The controversy over the so-called Lordship Salvation doctrine has its proximate roots in a series of sermons through the gospel of Matthew preached by John MacArthur from about 1978 to 1985.1 He published the first edition of The Gospel According to Jesus (hereafter, GAJ) in 1988. Even as he was still preaching through Matthew, the Lordship Salvation controversy began boiling up among Dispensationalists, as the footnotes in MacArthur’s volume demonstrate. Because of MacArthur’s visibility in the fundamentalist, Dispensational, and evangelical worlds and because of the ever-present concern among Reformed folk over antinomianism (e.g., the debates in the confessional Presbyterian and Reformed, hereafter P&R, world over “Sonship Theology”) this debate spilled over from fundamentalist and Dispensationalist worlds into the confessional Protestant world.
With this essay, I begin a series that interacts extensively with GAJ. In this installment, I want to set the table, frame the issues, and invite you to explore the resources attached to these essays.
Introduction and Background
The publication of GAJ prompted a thorough response from a collection of Reformed and Lutheran scholars in 1992 including Bob Strimple, Kim Riddlebarger, Mike Horton, Bob Godfrey, Rod Rosenblatt, and Paul Schaefer.2 As Mike Horton wrote in the preface to that collection, the position of the confessional Protestants relative to this debate is awkward because “both leading spokesmen on either side, Zane Hodges and John MacArthur, Jr. have offered some reason for discomfort over the terms lordship/no-lordship salvation.”3 Horton unequivocally repudiated the position advocated by Zane Hodges: “. . . no respected, mainstream Christian thinker, writer, or preacher has ever held such extreme and unusual views concerning the nature of the gospel and saving grace as Zane Hodges,” who, Horton argued, is “missing the point of the gospel itself—to make enemies friends, to reconciles sinners, to God, to break the reign of sin’s dominion, and to bring new and everlasting life to those who before were ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:1).”4 He noted that both sides appeal to the Protestant Reformers in support of their positions but “there is not the slightest support for Hodges and Ryrie to claim the Reformers’ favor for their novel views.”5 This essay will contend that there is also tension between the way MacArthur articulates his position and the way the magisterial Protestants and the confessional Protestant churches addressed this issue. This is partly due to the biblicist method of both the Hodges/Ryrie and MacArthur camps. They both “pretend that that one is reading the Bible without any theological influences or biases. . . .”6 Horton made this very connection: “. . . MacArthur points risks confusion on some fundamental evangelical convictions, particularly between justification and sanctification.”7 MacArthur, Horton noted, had heard the concerns of the contributors of the volume and would make revisions to the second edition of GAJ. Remarkably, however, in none of the footnotes to GAJ is there any acknowledgement of the influence of Christ the Lord nor any interaction with it.
The history of this debate did not begin in 1978. According to Paul Schaefer, this controversy is an in-house, intra-Dispensational argument.8 Properly understood, neither the confessional Lutherans nor the confessional Reformed have a dog in this fight. Seventy years before the publication of GAJ, the Dispensationalist theologian Lewis Sperry Chafer (1871–1952) published He That Is Spiritual.9 B. B. Warfield responded to it in a journal article the next year.10 Warfield wrote,
Mr. Chafer is in the unfortunate and, one would think, uncomfortable condition of having two inconsistent systems of religion struggling together in his mind. He was bred an Evangelical, and as a minster of the Presbyterian Church, South, stands committed to Evangelicism of the purest water. But he has been long associated in his work with a coterie of “Evangelists” and “Bible Teachers,” among whom there flourishes that curious religious system . . . which the Higher Life leaders of the middle of the last century brought into vogue; and he has not been immune to its infects. These two religious systems are quite incompatible. The one is the product of the Protestant Reformation and knows not determining power in the religious life but the grace of God; the other comes from the laboratory of John Wesley, and in all its forms—modifications and mitigations alike—remains incurably Arminian, subjecting all gracious works of God to human determining. The two can unite as little as fire and water.”11
It is the contention of this essay that GAJ is in a similarly, though differently, uncomfortable position. It is by parts Dispensationalist, nomist, and Protestant. This essay will seek to untangle these knots and to suggest how GAJ would have been written, had it been written from a genuinely Reformation point of view.
Schaefer’s essay helpfully surveys the contours of the intersection of Dispensationalism and Keswick (Higher Life) theology and piety and then turns his attention to MacArthur’s place in the history of the discussion. Of course, the role of works in the Christian life and the relation of good works to justification in confessional Protestant theology goes back to the sixteenth century. I have surveyed briefly the history of some of those controversies in print and am content to point the reader there.12 Suffice it to say here, that the entire discussion would have been helped considerably had the authors on both sides of the intra-Dispensational Lordship debate done more than merely cite Reformation authorities. Neither side shows much evidence of having engaged seriously the history of the Reformation and the history of theology before the Reformation.
Dispensational Bible-Church Fundamentalism and Reformed: Two Distinct Paradigms
That the modern (post-1978) Lordship controversy is an intra-dispensational affair is easy to prove. One need only look at the footnotes in GAJ. They are overwhelmingly devoted to citing and interacting with Dispensational authors. There are twenty-four chapters and three appendices in the third (and presumably final) edition of GAJ. The footnotes in GAJ are not consecutive and I have not counted them, but I have marked, in my own copy, all the references that are to identifiably Dispensational authors or sources so that I could see easily the trends. The notes are, understandably, full of references to Zane Hodges, Charles Ryrie, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Clarence Larkin, and others; Dispensationalists all.
The discomfort of GAJ with modern confessional Reformed theology appears in both the first and third editions. In his chapter on the definition of faith as taught by the two warring Dispensational camps, Kim Riddlebarger notes that MacArthur sought to enlist Louis Berkhof into his army.13 He wrote,
Berkhof sees three elements to genuine faith: an intellectual element (notitia), which is the understanding of truth; an emotional element (assensus), which is the conviction and affirmation of truth; and a volitional element (fiducia), which is the determination of the will to obey truth. Modern popular theology tends to recognize notitia and often assensus but eliminate fiducia. Yet faith is not complete unless it is obedient.14
As Riddlebarger notes, there are significant issues with both the quotation and MacArthur’s analysis.15 For example, assensus has no reference to the emotions in the classical Reformed definition of faith. Further, fiducia means simply trust, or, as Heidelberg Catechism 21 puts it “a heartfelt trust.” Berkhof wrote of fiducia as “a personal trust in Christ as savior and Lord, including a surrender of the soul as guilty and defiled to Christ, and a reception and appropriation of Christ as the source of pardon and spiritual life.”16
As Riddlebarger says, “there is not a word in Berkhof about obedience, or repentance in his definition of faith. MacArthur’s use of the threefold model for faith, as presented here, is outside the classical Protestant understanding of that model.”17
These comments pertained to the first edition of GAJ, but they still seem relevant. On page 189, in the third edition, GAJ retains a similar mistake. The analysis of Berkhof no longer contains the claim that Berkhof included obedience in his definition of faith but in the line just above the revised quotation, MacArthur writes, “Thus faith is inseparable from obedience.” He reasserts this on the next page: “Clearly the biblical concept of faith is inseparable from obedience. ‘Believe’ is treated as if it were synonymous with ‘obey’ in John 3:36,” and yet he correctly says just a few lines down, “Obedience is the inevitable manifestation of true faith.” The confessional Protestants agree with this last sentence, but the former sentence is incoherent with the latter.
MacArthur originally cited Berkhof as he did because he assumed, or he knew a priori, that Berkhof must be saying the same thing as he, but Berkhof was not saying what MacArthur wanted to argue in the first edition of GAJ. Even after MacArthur revised the quotation it did not cause him to rethink his fundamental approach. GAJ wants to synthesize its approach with the Reformation approach, but it cannot do it. Thus, the third edition contains a fairly clear chapter on justification—one of the two substantial revisions made to the first edition—and yet there does not seem to have been any attempt to integrate that chapter with the rest of the book nor the rest of the book with that chapter.
Consider the definition of faith in Heidelberg Catechism 21:
21. What is true faith?
True faith is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word; but also a hearty trust, which the Holy Spirit works in me by the Gospel, that not only to others, but to me also, forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.
The Reformed churches confess nothing about repentance and good works in our definition of faith. We mention knowledge, assent, and trust. This is a material issue since the subtitle of GAJ promises to tell us what authentic faith is. This arguably synonymous with true faith? Is MacArthur’s answer to this question the same as the Reformed? This is a question we will be exploring in this series.
The fundamental discontinuity between GAJ and the Reformation approach to the relationship of justification to sanctification and the latter to good works is in the very structure of the book. We will delve into this in more detail later, but Schaefer is right to say (about both editions in substance): “Nevertheless, MacArthur does move away from this classic Reformed conception with his constant emphasis on obedience.”18 I agree heartily with Schaefer when he writes, “All his statement placed together, however, force this dilemma: is obedience ‘a manifestation’ and a ‘by-product’ of a resting in and reliance on Christ as Lord and Savior, or, as he seems to say at some points, is it actually a constituent part of the definition of faith?”19
Had a classically Reformed theologian written this book, it would look more like the book of Romans (which is in three parts: guilt, grace, and gratitude) and the Heidelberg Catechism, and less GAJ.20 At the beginning of Part 1 of GAJ, MacArthur asks, “Today’s Gospel: Good News or Bad?” This is a fair question, but we might ask the same of MacArthur and GAJ. What is the gospel? Is it good news or bad? As I re-read GAJ for this series, I find myself asking what, for MacArthur, is good about the good news? What exactly is the gospel? For the most part, MacArthur’s answer to that question is frustratingly vague or confusing.
By contrast, the very first thing the catechism does is to give comfort and assurance to the believer:
1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.
The Reformation had just a few decades before the publication of the Catechism recovered the doctrines of justification by divine favor alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). The medieval church had deprived Christians of the comfort of the gospel and the assurance of faith by placing them, were it possible, under the law, under what the Reformed call a covenant of works. They were given grace, but they had to do their part in order finally to be justified. One could ordinarily never be assured, under the medieval system, that he was ever, in this life, right with God. Thus, one could never, ordinarily, be at peace or have any comfort or assurance. So, the Reformed were at pains to say to believers: “God accepts you freely for Christ’s sake. You are friends with God.”
The confessional Protestants taught the inevitability and necessity of good works as fruit and evidence of justification and salvation. Rome, of course, was dissatisfied with that and condemned the Protestants in Session 6 of the Council of Trent (1547) for saying that good works are nothing but fruit and evidence of our justification. Rome, however, made our obedience and good works constituent of our faith in justification. Paul Schaefer has raised this very same concern about MacArthur’s definition of faith. Are repentance and good works the fruit of true faith for MacArthur or do they make (form) faith and make it true? After all these years, that is still an open question that we must explore in this series.
Another way that the Protestants sought to comfort and assure Christians was to distinguish between law and gospel. GAJ would have been vastly improved had MacArthur clearly, unambiguously, and consistently distinguished law and gospel from the outset. This will be discussed more fully in part two of this series. I submit that the relative absence of these categories is yet another piece of evidence that MacArthur writes from another paradigm, one in which the Reformation distinction between law and gospel is absent or alien.21 As we will see in our survey, MacArthur’s account of the young man’s conversation with Jesus (Matt 19) is rather different from Luther’s or Calvin’s and the chief reason is that they had a conceptual tool in their toolbox that MacArthur does not: the distinction between the law as that word of God’s that says, “do this and live” (Lev 18:5; Luke 10:28) and the gospel word that says, “Christ has done for you.”
As I re-read GAJ, especially as I read MacArthur’s writing about the relation of repentance and faith, I find myself asking, what does he make of the 1717 Auchterarder Creed? “It is not sound and orthodox to teach that we must forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ.” The candidate for ministry could not affirm that and neither could the General Assembly, which condemned it, but the Auchterarder Presbytery was correct. They were standing for the Reformation message over against the Baxter-influenced nomism that had taken much of the Scots church captive by the early eighteenth century.22 Where is GAJ relative to the Marrow of Modern Divinity and the Marrow Men such as Thomas Boston and the Erskines? The index shows no reference to the Marrow Controversy and yet, in it, the Reformed confronted these very questions and they are entirely material to the Lordship controversy.
1. John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?. Revised and Expanded Anniversary Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 9.
2. Michael Horton, ed., Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).
3. Mike Horton, “Preface,” Christ the Lord, 11. It is interesting that MacArthur himself says that he dislikes the nomenclature of “Lordship Salvation” (GAJ, 44, n.20).
4. Ibid., 11.
6. Ibid., 11.
7. Ibid., 12.
8. Paul Schaefer, “An American Tale,” in Horton, ed., Christ the Lord, 149.
9. Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual (Findlay, Ohio: Dunham Pub, 1918).
10. B. B. Warfield, Review of He That Is Spiritual appeared in the Princeton Theological Review 17 (1919): 322–27. It is reprinted as an appendix to Christ the Lord.
11. Warfield, Review, 322; Christ the Lord, 211–212.
12. R. Scott Clark, “How We Got Here: The Roots of the Current Controversy Over Justification” in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays By the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 12–19.
13. Kim Riddlebarger, “What Is Faith?” in Horton, Christ the Lord, 94.
14. GAJ, 1st ed. quoted by Riddlebarger, ibid, 94.
15. In fairness to MacArthur, there are peculiarities in Berkhof’s definition (pp. 503–05). E.g., there is nothing about emotion inherent in the idea of assent. I have not seen Reformed orthodox writers characterizing assensus in terms of emotion. Richard Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v., “assensus” defines assensus as “assent, spiritual acknowledgment, or agreement; a necessary component of fides.” Further, Muller defines simply and correctly as trust. In Reformed orthodoxy it is the “crown of faith.” Certainly, Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 21 leads us in this direction rather than in the paths suggested by some of Berkhof’s language.
16. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 504–06:
b. An emotional element (assensus). Barth calls attention to the fact that the time when man accepts Christ by faith is the existential moment of his life, in which he ceases to consider the object of faith in a detached and disinterested way, and begins to feel a lively interest in it. It is not necessary to adopt Barth’s peculiar construction of the doctrine of faith, to admit the truth of what he says on this point. When one embraces Christ by faith, he has a deep conviction of the truth and reality of the object of faith, feels that it meets an important need in his life, and is conscious of an absorbing interest in it—and this is assent. It is very difficult to distinguish this assent from the knowledge of faith just described, because, as we have seen, it is exactly the distinguishing characteristic of the knowledge of saving faith, that it carries with it a conviction of the truth and reality of its object. Hence some theologians have shown an inclination to limit the knowledge of faith to a mere taking cognizance of the object of faith; but (1) this is contrary to experience, for in true faith there is no knowledge that does not include a hearty conviction of the truth and reality of its object and an interest in it; and (2) this would make the knowledge in saving faith identical with that which is found in a purely historical faith, while the difference between historical and saving faith lies in part exactly at this point. Because it is so difficult to make a clear distinction, some theologians prefer to speak of only two elements in saving faith, namely, knowledge and personal trust. These are the two elements mentioned in the Heidelberg Catechism when it says that true faith “is not only a certain knowledge whereby I hold for true all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also a hearty trust which the Holy Ghost works in me by the gospel.”1 It probably deserves preference to regard knowledge and assent simply as two aspects of the same element in faith. Knowledge may then be regarded as its more passive and receptive side, and assent as its more active and transitive side.
c. A volitional element (fiducia). This is the crowning element of faith. Faith is not merely a matter of the intellect, nor of the intellect and the emotions combined; it is also a matter of the will, determining the direction of the soul, an act of the soul going out towards its object and appropriating this. Without this activity the object of faith, which the sinner recognizes as true and real and entirely applicable to his present needs, remains outside of him. And in saving faith it is a matter of life and death that the object be appropriated. This third element consists in a personal trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord, including a surrender of the soul as guilty and defiled to Christ, and a reception and appropriation of Christ as the source of pardon and of spiritual life. Taking all these elements in consideration, it is quite evident that the seat of faith cannot be placed in the intellect, nor in the feelings, nor in the will exclusively, but only in the heart, the central organ of man’s spiritual being, out of which are the issues of life. In answer to the question whether this fiducia (trust) necessarily includes an element of personal assurance, it may be said, in opposition to the Roman Catholics and Arminians, that this is undoubtedly the case. It naturally carries with it a certain feeling of safety and security, of gratitude and joy. Faith, which is in itself certainty, tends to awaken a sense of security and a feeling of assurance in the soul. In the majority of cases this is at first more implicit and hardly penetrates into the sphere of conscious thought; it is something vaguely felt rather than clearly perceived. But in the measure in which faith grows and the activities of faith increase, the consciousness of the security and safety which it brings also becomes greater. Even what theologians generally call “refuge-seeking trust” (toevluchtnemend vertrouwen) conveys to the soul a certain measure of security. This is quite different from the position of Barth, who stresses the fact that faith is a constantly repeated act, is ever anew a leap of despair and a leap in the dark, and never becomes a continuous possession of man; and who therefore rules out the possibility of any subjective assurance of faith.
17. Riddlebarger, ibid., 94.
18. Schaefer, “A Battle Royal,” in Christ The Lord, 183.
19. Schaefer, ibid., 183–84.
20. In his lecture responding to some of my criticisms of GAJ Phil Johnson complains about my frequent references to what he calls “the Heidelberg Confession.” This might be the same sort of Freudian slip as when he referred to John MacArthur as “God,” but his misstatement and his irritation with the frequent use of the Heidelberg are revealing. To clarify, a catechism is a book of questions and answers. A confession is a document with a series of articles or declarations. In the Reformed churches we regard the Scriptures as the primary and final authority for the Christian faith and life. This is what we confess in, e.g., Belgic Confession art. 7. The Catechism, Confession, and the Canons of Dort (rulings against the Remonstrants or Arminians) are official, ecclesiastical interpretations of God’s Word. They are subsidiary but they are authoritative statements of what the Reformed understand God’s Word to teach. They have more authority than, e.g., a systematic theology such as Berkhof’s or Horton’s. Those are valuable but they are not ecclesiastical. Johnson’s evidence impatience with the Reformed use of ecclesiastical documents reveals again that we are in two different worlds, he in the Bible church world and I in the confessional Reformed world, operating within two distinct paradigms.
21. See the resources on the distinction between law and gospel listed below. The reader may want to begin with R. Scott Clark, “Letter and Spirit: Law and Gospel in Reformed Preaching,” in R. Scott Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 331–63. Also available on iTunes. This essay was meant to be an introduction to the topic. More than one former student of the Lordship Salvation model has commented that he has found this essay helpful.
22. For more on this see Sinclair Ferguson’s wonderful work, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton: Crossway, 2016). Listen also the Heidelcast series on Nomism and Antinomianism.
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- Michael Horton, ed., Christ the Lord: The Reformation and Lordship Salvation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1992).
- R. Scott Clark, Lordship Salvation, The Federal Vision, And The Covenant Theology That The Reformation Rejected
- Mike Abendroth, My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 1)
- Mike Abendroth, My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 2): Test Case—The Rich Young Ruler
- Mike Abendroth, My Pilgrimage From “Lordship” to Law/Gospel (part 3): Assurance
- Heidelcast 181: As It Was In The Days Of Noah (24)—We Are Pilgrims Under Christ’s Lordship
- With No Compromise Radio On The Lordship Controversy, QIRE, And The Reformation
- The Gospel According To Jesus, Grace, Salvation, And Sanctification
- Embracing The Reformation Doctrine Of Salvation Is Not “Wearying From The Battle”
- A Faithful Elder Stands Up For The Sheep
- The Dispensational Playbook Again? There Is A More Biblical, Historic Way
- Resources On Dispensationalism
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- Resources On The Marrow Controversy
- Heidelminicast: Heidelberg Catechism 64—Does Justification Sola Fide Lead To Antinomianism?
- Heidelcast Series: Nomism And Antinomianism
- Antinomianism Is A Serious Error And So Is Nomism
- Ursinus Against The Antinomians, Libertines, And Similar Fanatics Who Deny That The Decalogue Is For Teaching In The Christian Church (Objection 1)
- Resources on the Law/Gospel Distinction
- Calvin On Justification Without The Aid Of Love Or Works
- Heidelcast 95: Reformation Happens
- W. Robert Godfrey, “Faith Formed By Love or Faith Alone?” in Clark, ed. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.
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When speaking of the law/gospel distinction, do we mean all three uses of the law, or just the third use? Are the sanctification passages (like Romans 12, or the second half of some Pauline epistles) law or gospel?
Should the proverbs be seen as law?
All three usage is to be distinguished from the pure and simple gospel.
The pedagogical use (the 1st mentioned by the Heidelberg) means that the Spirit uses the law to teach us the greatness of our sin and misery apart from Christ.
The second, or civil use, is used by God to preserve social order. E.g.
The third use is that whereby the life of the believer is normed by the moral law (e.g., the Ten Commandments). Even in that use, however, the Spirit uses it to remind us of our sinfulness and our need for Jesus as our Savior and our need to repent daily (or not to be impenitent and presumptuous).
So the 1st (pedagogical) & 3rd (normative) both relate, in different ways to the distinction between law & gospel. More on the three uses:
Where do errors in regard to the faith go from error to Galatian hersey? How should lordship salvation and Piper’s idea that affections are a part of faith be viewed?
In the strict sense, heresy is an ecclesiastical judgment. I am not aware that any Reformed synod has declared the teaching of Piper or MacArthur to be heretical. The term is also used more broadly but I think it should be used very carefully. The CRC declared Kinism heresy but even that would apparently a little controversial.
Generally, then, it’s probably best to wait for a synod or general assembly to make a formal determination before using it.
The MacArthur quote of Berkhof: like John Piper would come to the same conclusion.
Dr. Clark, in part C. of your footnote #16 it seems like you say that true saving faith necessarily is accompanied by assurance. Is this to suggest that a person with chronic doubt over the genuineness of his faith and more or less continuous lack of assurance of salvation is then necessarily a false convert?
Assurance is of the essence of faith in itself but not always in our experience of faith. We are all sinners and our sinfulness & sins cause us to look away from Christ, to ourselves, and to doubt. As Rob indicates the WCF speaks to this as did Calvin and the Canons of Dort.
Here are some resources on assurance.
The good news is that Christ obeyed for us, he died in our place, he was raised for our justification, and he is interceding for us now and he will come again. That’s all true whatever our subjective state at any given moment. Our doubts don’t change that reality one bit. He has cast our sins away from us as far as the East is from the West. A believer is covered with Christ’s perfect righteousness so that it is as if we had done all that Christ did for us.
Because of what Christ did for us, we want to die to sin and, even though we don’t always see it, the Spirit is sanctifying us gradually more and more, conforming us to the image of Christ. As that happens we become more sensitive to our sins. That doesn’t mean that Christ loves us less. It means that he is changing our hearts and minds.
Jesus loves you now as much as he always has and always will. Your sins don’t change that. They can’t. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is not fickle. He is not judging you because you are not in a covenant of works but a covenant of grace.
Thanks so much for the encouragement!
Westminster Confession of 1646 Chapter XVIII. Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation
Link to the whole section for context and references: https://www.blueletterbible.org/study/ccc/westminster/Of_The_Assurance_Of.cfm
Thank you for this series. Where MacArthur is concerned, there is both good and bad to say. The problem with the bad is in his zeal for fidelity to the Word, how far over into works does he go, and his seeming failure to appreciate that Dispensationalism is very young in the history of the church. But, this does comes from someone who has long followed him, off and on over the years, and therefore appreciates the fact that there are those within the Reformed camp, such as I believe the late R.C. Sproul, who was able to be friends with MacArthur, if I remember correctly, despite there being areas of disagreement.
I am grateful for the times that RC catechized MacArthur in basic Reformation theology. It is too bad that catechesis did not begin 50 years ago.
RSC: Some might be interested in my brief review of The Gospel Under Siege: A Study on Faith and Works by Zane C. Hodges. It appeared in Westminster Theological Journal 46 (1984) 2:426-30. As a matter of background, it is my understanding that Hodges’s thesis developed against the backdrop of his evangelistic ministry, particularly among those who were captives to drunkenness. Sadly, he watched as many who made professions of faith in Christ returned to their former ways in captivity. Some have said that Hodges’s formulations came about in response to those tragedies.
Thank you Fowler! If you still have the text of that review and would be willing to publish it on the HB, it would be useful as background.
Please excuse my ignorance. I lack access to a good theological library, and most of my Christian reading outside the Bible is of people long departed from this Vale of Baca. Further, I lost interest in Dispensational theology long ago.
It seems that among Dispesationalists, there are those associated with the Higher Life movement and its heirs who say you need to accept Jesus as Lord as well as savior on the one hand, and those who say you are saved if you confess Jesus as savior, and no more. Am I correct in guessing that the “Lordship” group are those who follow the first side of the debate which I have described? Or, am I being unfair to one or both sides of a non-Reformed controversy?
Was there not something called Lordship teaching done by John Frame or other Reformed men?
Saving Faith According to John MacArthur:
“Forsaking oneself for Christ’s sake is not an optional step of discipleship subsequent to conversion; it is the sine qua non of saving faith.” The Gospel According to Jesus, p. 142
By “saving faith” MacArthur actually means justifying faith. We may infer this because he is speaking of the faith that is tied to conversion. What is noteworthy is MacArthur cites “forsaking oneself” as an essential condition for our pardon in Christ. Yet that is radically different than how the Reformed tradition defines justifying faith.
“Justifying faith is a saving grace wrought in the heart of a sinner by the Spirit and word of God, whereby he, being convinced of his sin and misery, and of the disability in himself and all other creatures to recover him out of his lost condition, not only assenteth to the truth of the promise of the gospel, but receiveth and resteth upon Christ and his righteousness, therein held forth, for pardon of sin, and for the accepting and accounting of his person righteous in the sight of God for salvation.” Westminster Larger Catechism, #72
Not only does MacArthur add forsaking one’s life to faith, he also asserts that personal commitment is essential to justifying faith.
“Commitment is the disputed element of faith around which the lordship controversy swirls. No-lordship theology denies that believing in Christ involves any element of personal commitment to Him.” Faith Works, The Gospel According To The Apostles, p. 43-44
MacArthur contends that the faith that appropriates the benefits of Christ entails “forsaking oneself” and “commitment.” It is not MacArthur but the Westminster Shorter Catechism that has it right when it states:
“Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, he is offered in the gospel.” Westminster Shorter Catechism, #86 What is faith in Jesus Christ?
It completely escapes MacArthur that personal commitment and forsaking of life are true works of righteousness, which are fruits of sanctification and not elements of faith. What MacArthur also misses is that justifying faith is merely an instrument through which the unrighteous lays hold of Christ’s righteousness. (Westminster Shorter Catechism #73)
Not only does MacArthur add works to faith while leaving out trust, he would have us believe that the traditional view of trust (often referred to as fiducia) is not reliance upon Christ but rather surrender.
“This ‘trust,’ or fiducia, faith’s volitional component, is the crowning element of believing it involves surrender to the object of faith.” Faith Works, The Gospel According To The Apostles, p. 44
In essence, MacArthur takes the volitional component of justifying faith, fiducia, and turns it into something other than mere child like trust in the righteousness of Christ. MacArthur redefines trust. For MacArthur fiducia is not to exercise trust in Christ and his alien righteousness but rather it is the work of bringing to Christ our own righteous deeds in the form of forsaking of oneself, commitment, and surrender.
MacArthur was wrong dead wrong on justification and eternal sonship. It’s my understanding that MacArthur may have repented of those views. He has not yet recanted on the nature of justifying faith, however. If anything, he has doubled down.
What MacArthur misses is that those who truly trust in the Savior will, also, commit and surrender to him. But it’s Rome, not the Reformed, that conflate the fruit of faith with instrumental cause of justification, which is faith.
Often right but never in doubt is not a comforting formula for church leadership. I thank God for the checks and balances of Presbyterianism and the collective wisdom of the Reformed tradition.
Excellent analysis of McArthur’s errors in conflating law and gospel!
[Ed. Note: Because MacArthur is so beloved by Chinese Baptists] Horton was considered an enemy by many Baptist Christians in China because of his criticism of MacArthur.
Anyway, thank you, dear Dr. clark.
Dr. Clark, did you hear Dr. Chafer discuss his correspondence with Dr. Warfield regarding his book “He That Is Spiritual”? He describes it in the first lecture, in a series of lectures, on the “Spiritual Life” he gave at Dallas Theological Seminary in 1948. He says he sent Dr. Warfield a revised copy of his book with a long letter…quoting various verses in the Holy Scriptures like Gal. 5:16, where it points out man’s responsibility in sanctification. Dr. Warfield replied with a post card and simply acknowledged Dr. Chafer’s points and did not add anything else to the argument.
PLEASE to Clarify:
I have been Trying to figure out.
IF someone believes in 2 Tier Salvation does that then mean no Salvation?
If not, why then, all this talk of how bad it is and where it leads, if one is saved anyway.
I listened to (Grace to You) back when I was in the service in California.
Mac drove me nuts in my faith, as a young believer at 20. It was like getting beat over
the head with his Bible to shape up and do this and this, that I had to quit listening.
Even Family Radio was a problem for me. Not healthy!!
Never having been discipled and left to myself I made many a mistake and didn’t
know what sin was about. I never had assurance. I had gone nuts trying to figure out
salvation, and what it was and how it worked. I didn’t. I was lost. These guys didn’t help.
So now, knowing at 69 what I know. I have to counsel others as to this matter.
If it is not heretical or ? then why all the above. Very confusing indeed for weak faith.
Anyway, all this about Piper/Mac that teach the above, does it really matter if
one believes in their system and yet is saved anyway. yes, no.
Piper was pastor in Mpls MN, and he said things that really messed with my head in the 80s.
He said in a sermon that one could never be sure of salvation, there is always that
percentage. maybe one is sure but there is always that what if? relating to
obedience and faith. Pipers church back then was really leagalist when it came to being
a member there. All these do this and cant do that rules etc. Silly.
Even the things he says on the internet at times is really sad.
I hope my point makes sense, I am not very good at this comment deal. Sorry if so.
I try to be when I do a comment at times. as an aside-The pastor does not recommend Mac commentaries.
Isn’t two tier salvation a denial that salvation is by the suffering and righteousness of Christ ALONE imputed to us, but that we have to add our own righteousness to make sure we are saved in tier two or the final judgment? Isn’t that salvation by our works in the end? What does Paul say about salvation by another gospel in Galatians? Isn’t that a different gospel than salvation by grace ALONE, through faith ALONE, in Christ ALONE, to the glory of God ALONE?
Sanctification, that includes repentance and a desire to obey God, comes as a response of love and gratitude for so great a salvation, produced by the Spirit in regeneration. It does not beat us over the head with fear that
our repentance and obedience might not be sufficient, so we could lose our salvation.
Perfect Love casts out fear.
We love Him because he first loved us.
1John 4 18-19
The fruit of repentance and obedience are evidence that we ARE already and forever justified, not that we are trying to be finally justified by our works. That is simply a denial that Christ done enough for our justification!
THX for reply – I Totally agree on your reply.
It being what you stated then, what Piper and Mac believe then, especially Piper, they fit what you said. Grace Alone thru Faith Alone on account of Christ Alone. Period!!
NO WORKS. Period!
As to Mac I am reading the articles on H with great interest.
Always wondered where he stood on salvation.
I get where our Obedience fits but Never as being what saves.
That is why I have come to really Rely on the WCF, LC and HC.
I USE a Book called (A Harmony of the Westminster Presbyterian Standards) as
my goto for exact answers.
IF Piper and Mac believe they are saved by Faith and their Works/Obedience, so be it.
Hopefully people that go by their teachings will come to realize error.
The WHInn at their very start was where I came to know real truth on the Reformed Faith.
Yes! Heidelberg 30!